9 Top-Rated Day Trips from Marseilles
Surrounding the cosmopolitan port city of Marseilles is a vibrant Provençal countryside
with many interesting tourist attractions. This area of Provence has a distinctive Mediterranean character and diverse landscapes: a spectacular coastline, rolling hills dotted with ancient villages, and pristine nature reserves. The serene Calanques offer an enchanting escape to dazzling, secluded coves of crystal-clear turquoise water. The traditional Provençal towns of Arles and Aix-en-Provence delight visitors with their fascinating history, rich artistic heritage, and array of excellent museums, while Nîmes impresses with its well-preserved ancient Roman sites. Visitors will also enjoy day trips to the picture-perfect fishing village of Cassis; the "Most Beautiful Village" of Gordes, with its quaint cobblestone streets and sensational views; and Hyères, which was one of the first wintertime seaside resorts in France. Other highlights include Salon de Provence, a medieval village that boasts an incredible history, and Saint-Maximum with a pilgrimage church that will inspire the faithful. Explore more with this list of the top-rated day trips from Marseilles:
Less than one hour from Marseilles by train, Arles is a rewarding day trip for tourists who appreciate history and culture. This sun-drenched Provençal town has a traditional character revealed in its shady public squares, tree-lined streets, and atmospheric outdoor cafés. Vincent van Gogh captured the alluring atmosphere of the cafés at the Place du Forum in his famous painting "Café Terrace at Night." Other landmarks painted by van Gogh can be found on the Van Gogh Trail, and works inspired by the artist are on display at the Fondation Vincent van Gogh. Arles is equally renowned for its ancient Roman sites, including an amphitheater dating to the 1st-century AD and the remains of a 1st-century BC theater that once accommodated an audience of 8,000 people. Although the ancient theater is partially in ruins, the seating is still used as an outdoor venue for summertime performances and events. Other popular events during the spring and summer months include several lively festivals that delight locals and tourists alike.
Nîmes is about a 90-minute drive from Marseilles, a worthwhile detour into the Languedoc region that borders Provence. Drenched in the sunshine of southern France, Nîmes has a rich cultural heritage, thanks to its history dating back thousands of years. Throughout Nîmes are well-preserved ancient Roman monuments, including an amphitheater (the Arènes) that was the most important monument during the Roman era and the remarkable Maison Carrée, a rare example of a completely intact classical Roman temple. Similar to many Provencal towns, the historic center of Nîmes features shady tree-lined streets, public squares adorned by gurgling fountains, and bustling cafés with outdoor terraces. Because of its proximity to Provence and Catalonia, Nîmes shares many Provençal and Spanish traditions. Throughout the springtime and summer, Nîmes comes alive with cultural events, outdoor performances, and festivals. The Festival de Nîmes in June and July draws large crowds with music concerts held at the ancient amphitheater.
Some of the most magnificent and unusual natural scenery of the Mediterranean is found in Calanques, an area along the coast between Marseilles and Cassis. The word "calanque" means "cove," and it describes the narrow fiord-like coves found in this region. The coves cut deep into limestone rock walls, forming pools of seawater that are as calm as lakes. Because the light reflects off the white limestone, the water appears a stunning turquoise color that is mesmerizing. The Calanques also has amazing wildlife and rare plant species because of the unique environment. The area is partly used as natural yacht harbors and is popular with rock climbers. The large Calanques, Port-Miou, En-Vau, and Port-Pin, are particularly impressive. The Calanques are accessible by land as well as by sea from Marseilles. Tourists can choose from various private boat excursions, catamaran trips, and cruises such as a day-time brunch boat tour or a sunset dinner cruise.
For outdoor sports enthusiasts, the Calanques offer endless things to do. Popular recreational activities include nature walks, hiking, swimming, scuba diving, and snorkeling. Adventure seekers will have fun participating in the adrenaline-inducing sports: kayaking, rock climbing, and electric mountain biking. One of the most exciting ways to discover the breathtaking beauty of the Calanques is by taking an Electric Bike Tour of the Calanques. Departing from Marseilles, this full-day guided trip includes a stop at the charming town of Les Goudes for lunch; continues with an electric biking excursion through the wild Calanques terrain; then allows time for relaxation, sunbathing, and swimming at the Maronnaise Beach and Callelongue Cove. The tour ends in Marseilles with a tour of the city's top attractions.
This quintessential Provençal town delights visitors with its leisurely lifestyle and elegant ambience. In Aix-en-Provence, as the ancient capital of Provence, the history is entwined in the buildings, streets, and fountains. Throughout the city center, there are majestic public squares and hundreds of lovely fountains, which is why Aix-en-Provence has the title the "City of Fountains." A vestige of the city's ancient Roman heritage, these monuments, gushing with water, are found in all manner of styles-from the monumental Fontaine de la Rotonde on the Cours Mirabeau to the whimsical Fontaine des Quatre-Dauphins (featuring four adorable dolphins) in the historic Mazarin district.
At its heart, Aix-en-Provence is a slow-paced country town. One of the most important traditions is the city's Provençal weekly market, where artisans, craftsmen, and food producers sell their fresh products and handcrafted goods. As a city of art and culture, Aix-en-Provence is renowned for its outstanding museums, including the wonderful Tapestry Museum, with a rich collection from the 17th century; the Musée Granet, with its extensive Impressionist collection; and the Atelier Cézanne, where the artist painted some of his most famous works.
On a hillside about a 10-minute walk from the Atelier Cézanne is the Terrain des Peintres, a public park where Cézanne and other Impressionist painters created glorious images of the Sainte-Victoire Mountain and the Provençal landscape. To see the sights of Aix-en-Provence and the Provence countryside that beguiled the Impressionists, take the Lavender Fields and Aix-en-Provence Tour. This day trip from Marseilles allows tourists to explore Aix-en-Provence independently for a few hours, then continues with an excursion through the gorgeous lavender fields of the Valensole Plateau, including a stop at the quaint village of Valensole to shop for lavender soaps, sachets, and essential oils.
The historic port town of Cassis feels a world away from the big city of Marseilles, although the distance is only 22 kilometers. Presiding over a semicircular bay and framed by mountains, this picturesque fishing village once attracted painters, including Vlaminck, Dufy, and Matisse. The artists were drawn to the charming scene of pastel-colored houses and sailboats reflected in the bay. Today, Cassis is a popular recreation center for the residents of Marseilles, who enjoy relaxing visits in this scenic setting. Cassis is also an ideal destination for those who want to make an easy day trip from Marseilles. Tourist attractions of Cassis include the old settlement center with remains of 12th- and 14th-century fortifications, a castle built in 1381, and the beautiful Fontaine des Quatre Nations.
Outside the village of Cassis is a dramatic coastline with sublime natural wonders. Tourists should not miss the UNESCO-listed Calanques on the Baie de Cassis. These narrow inlets are filled with crystal-clear seawater surrounded by sheer, white limestone cliffs. Another must-see site is the Cape Canaille, the highest sea cliff in Europe, which affords sweeping views of the Bay of Cassis. For a carefree visit to Cassis and the Bay of Cassis, try the Half-Day Small-Group Tour to Cassis from Marseille. This five-hour experience includes a guided walking tour of Aix-en-Provence, a scenic drive to Cape Canaille, free time to visit the village of Cassis, and an option to take a cruise through the glittering turquoise waters of the Calanques.
In the heart of the mountainous Luberon region of Provence, the village perché (hilltop village) of Gordes is one of France's "Most Beautiful Villages." This captivating destination has many well-preserved historic buildings and an atmospheric medieval ambience. The most monumental sites are the castle and church that tower over the village and impress onlookers. Originally constructed in 1031, the castle was rebuilt in 1525 and carefully restored with Renaissance influences. This imposing monument is strongly guarded, with its round machicolated towers bearing terraces for the artillery. The center of Gordes village, in its lofty perched position, is a cluster of narrow cobblestone streets that thread their way through tall houses built against the rock. Gordes also extends to include the Bories village and the noteworthy Sénanque Abbey, set in a peaceful green valley. Many famous artists, including Marc Chagall and Victor Vasarely, have found inspiration here.
Delightful medieval hilltop villages are scattered throughout the Luberon, an idyllic piece of the Haut-Vaucluse in Provence, which is actually a UNESCO-listed nature reserve comprised of rolling hills and farmlands. Besides Gordes, other "Most Beautiful Villages" of the Luberon include Ménerbes, a characteristic Provençal village with many artisan boutiques and cultural events; Lourmarin, known for its Provençal festivals and art de vivre (art of living); and Roussillon, a dreamy village perched high on an ochre cliff. Other picturesque villages with bustling Provençal open-air markets are the riverside village of L'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue and the hilltop village of Bonnieux, which also has a marvelous Romanesque church. A driving itinerary is required to visit these villages but is worth the effort. For travelers who want to leave the driving to someone else, a great choice is the Perched Villages of the Luberon Day Trip from Marseilles. This full-day guided tour allows tourists to soak up the slow-paced lifestyle of the Luberon villages and its beautiful pastoral landscape.
At the foot of the Castéou Mountains, the seaside scenery of Hyères has long attracted visitors and made the town a flourishing health resort (one of the first in France). Typical of the Provence region, Hyères has a lively daily market held in the Old Town on the Place Massillon. Also on this square is the 12th-century Tour Saint-Blaise, the remains of a residence of the Knights Templar. On the Rue Rabaton is the birthplace of the great preacher Massillon, court minister to Louis XIV and the Bishop of Clermont. Also worth a visit is the Eglise Sainte-Cathérine, originally built in the 12th century and restored in the 16th century. When walking up to the front door of the church, visitors will notice a charming little Renaissance house with corner turrets. The village also has a former monastery and lovely 13th-century houses on the Rue Paradis. Hyères' 13th-century Porte de la Rade, the former main gate, helps visitors to imagine the medieval ambience of the town.
Mary Magdalene is supposed to have landed by boat at Saintes Maries de la Mer, accompanied by her sister Martha, her brother Lazarus, Maximin, Sidonius, her servant Sara, and others, after their expulsion from Palestine. While Maximin and Sidonius went into the country as missionaries, Mary Magdalene, at God's behest, spent 30 years without earthly nourishment as a penitent in a grotto. She was buried, it is said, in a mausoleum, which has been preserved as the crypt of the church. The Eglise Saint Maximin la Sainte Baume-Saint Madeleine and the Dominican convent were begun in 1295 and intended for the waves of pilgrims who visited this village. The French Revolution drove out the Dominicans; however, the local Jacobin club saved the building. The historic church is worth visiting to appreciate its importance to pilgrims.
9 Salon de Provence
Salon de Provence lies on the edge of the Plaine de la Crau northwest of Marseilles. In ancient times, there was a Roman site on the Hill of Valdemech, and the town also has origins in the time of Charlemagne. In the 12th and 15th centuries the Archbishops of Arles built the impressive fortress-like Château de l'Empéri ("Emperor's Castle"), which dominates the town of Salon de Provence. This château is one of the best preserved and largest fortifications in Provence. The building was named "Emperor's Castle" because Salon had fallen to the German emperors in 1032 with the rest of the kingdom of Provence. When visiting the château, tourists can admire the beautiful Chapel of Saint-Cathérine from the 12th century. Another interesting attraction in Salon de Provence is the Maison de Nostradamus (2 rue Nostradamus), the former house of the cosmologist Nostradamus (1503-1566). Nostradamus spent the last 19 years of his life here. The house is now a museum that features historical editions of Nostradamus' prophecies, mementoes, and a reproduction of his study.